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How Ugly Sandals Became So Popular

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A Cultural History of Hideous Sandals
Birkenstock sandals

The only thing more ubiquitous than ugly sandals on the streets of cool and/or gentrified neighborhoods are stories about just how cool said ugly sandals are. They tend to sprout up every spring, as if orthopedic footwear-as-fashion-statement were a novel concept. But indeed, we’ve been doing this for a well over a generation.

In 1966, German-American designer Margot Fraser was on a spa trip back to Germany when she discovered Birkenstocks. Although the company had been around since 1774, it hadn’t made it to the States until Fraser began importing its wares to San Francisco, and even though shoe stores initially refused to sell them (because, well, they were ugly), she found luck at health food stores where hippies shopped. Thus, the dorky, boat-like orthopedic sandals were forever regarded as groovy and granola.

So when Phoebe Philo, in 2012, sent models down the Céline runway in her own fur-lined versions of Birkenstock Arizonas, it wasn’t the first time those particular ugly sandals had clopped their way into high fashion. As a 2015 New Yorker feature on the subject notes, Birkenstock’s association with the counterculture has ensured that they were “cyclically fashionable” ever since the ’60s — Kate Moss famously wore them in an influential magazine spread in 1990, while Marc Jacobs included them in his 1992 grunge collection for Perry Ellis.

Yet Birkenstocks weren’t even the first fashionable ugly shoe of the new millennium. Born, again, in Germany and known as “grandma shoes” for older European women, Worishofer sandals appeared in a 2006 issue of Lucky magazine, which called them “chic” and “ridiculously comfortable,” according to a 2010 Slate piece. The comfy-cutesy sandals were the perfect orthopedic shoe of the twee era, and that fall, WWD included them in a roundup of “senior-inspired fashion.” The next summer, they appeared on a Today show segment, where they were described as “actually very chic!”

It was also around this time, just after the height of Crocs mania, that New York magazine devoted a 2007 spread to the ugly shoe phenomenon, tracing its roots from the ’60s Birkenstock to Tevas in the ’90s and finally to the contemporaneous phenomenon of hipsters in Worishofers and Salt Water sandals.

But the next major revamp that Big Fashion gave the ugly sandal didn’t come until Céline’s “furkenstock” moment in 2012, which the New Yorker likened to Oppenheim’s gazelle fur-covered teacup (“witty, provocative, and slightly silly”). The original brand received a flurry of breathless coverage afterward, beginning with the staffers of the fashion bible itself: “Pretty Ugly: Why Vogue Staffers Have Fallen for the Birkenstock,” declared a July 2013 piece.

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Why Are All These Brands Emailing You About Their Privacy Policies?
A woman at a computer

One of the consequences of being an avid online shopper is that you wind up giving out your email address with abandon. Random secondhand site I found on Instagram? Have a Gmail! Big clothing chain that has a store within easy subway distance of my office? Find me online!

Much like the former love interest who hits you up twice a year to “say hello,” brands have been emerging from the woodwork over the past few weeks to share updates about their privacy policies. That’s because of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect on Friday, May 25.

The GDPR, which the EU Parliament approved in 2016 after four years of debate, aims to create transparency between companies and the users whose data they collect. Under this law, the former need to clearly explain to people why they’re gathering their data, how long it will be kept for, and what other parties might receive it. Those are just a few of the requirements.

This holds true even for companies that aren’t based in Europe if they process EU citizens’ information, which is why people on this side of the pond are receiving messages about it too.

Thus, many companies have been emailing users about their privacy policy updates. Some of these are wholly unsurprising — ahem, Facebook — but for more than a few people in the Racked office, our inboxes are galleries of companies we forgot we gave our information to, like Everlane, Resy, eBay, Spotify, Etsy, Marriott, Kickstarter, and GoDaddy.

It’s a sobering experience. If you’d asked me whether eBay had my information, I’d say ... probably? But if you’d asked for a complete list of brands that have my information, no way could I generate that for you. I’m diligent about unsubscribing to promotional emails when I buy something online, but getting these privacy policy updates is a reminder that even if you uncheck that box, the brand still knows who you are.

If you’re wondering why _________ hasn’t sent you an email about your data, well, a lot of companies still aren’t prepared to meet the GDPR deadline.

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